The third major policy focus of the immediate post-World War
II period was Shah Mahmud's experiment in greater political tolerance
and liberalization. Encouraged by young, Western-educated members
of the political elite, the prime minister allowed National Assembly
elections that were distinctly less controlled than they had been
in the past; the result was the "liberal parliament" of 1949.
He tolerated the activity of opposition political groups. The
most vocal of these groups was the Wikh-i-Zalmayan (Awakened Youth),
a movement comprised of diverse dissident groups founded in Qandahar
in 1947. A newly formed student union not only provided a forum
for political debate but also produced theatrical plays critical
of Islam and the monarchy. Newspapers criticized the government,
and many groups began demanding a more open political system.
But the liberalization went farther than the prime minister had
intended. He reacted by attempting to form a government party,
and when this failed, he began cracking down. The Kabul University
student union was dissolved in 1951; newspapers criticizing the
government were closed down; many opposition leaders were jailed.
The parliament that was elected in 1952 was a significant step
backward from the one that had been elected in 1949. The brief
experiment in open politics was over.
Despite its failure, the liberal experiment had important repercussions
for the nation's political future: it provided a breeding ground
for the revolutionary movement that would come to power in 1978.
Future Marxist leaders of Afghanistan, Nur Muhammad Taraki, Babrak
Karmal, and Hafizullah Amin were all involved. The government
crackdown in 1951 and 1952 that brought an abrupt end to liberalization
alienated many young, reformist Afghans who had originally hoped
only to improve the existing structure rather than radically transforming
name Afghanistan conventional long form Islamic State of
Afghanistan conventional short form Afghanistan local long
form Dowlat-e Eslami-ye Afghanestan local short form Afghanestan former Republic of Afghanistan
- total: 647,500 sq km land: 647,500 sq km water: 0 sq km
- mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest
- arid to semiarid; cold winters and hot summers
- landlocked; the Hindu Kush mountains that run northeast to southwest divide
the northern provinces from the rest of the country; the highest peaks are in
the northern Vakhan (Wakhan Corridor)
- 1,200 km note: chiefly Amu Darya, which handles vessels up to 500 DWT (2001)
Natural hazards - damaging earthquakes
occur in Hindu Kush mountains; flooding; droughts
Courtesy: The Library of Congress - Country Studies
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